Local leaders look back, ahead
A few days before the end of 2017, we conducted phone interviews with the local heads of government to ask about their achievements this year – and what they hope to accomplish in 2018. Woodford Judge-Executive John Coyle
“I like that we got the clock tower taken care of. I like that we were able to give the employees a small, deserved raise this year and continue paying the same amount on their health insurance and … benefits. We didn’t raise the tax rate, as we haven’t since I’ve been here. The county is going good. …” Coyle said. “Midway Station is coming along, slowly but surely. I think that we’re finally getting out of the worst economic time since the Great Depression and it’s finally come home and we’re seeing some benefit from it.” Coyle also cited the opening of More Than A Bakery as a plus for 2017, adding, “I just think we’re doing good – the smaller businesses, everybody seems to be working and headed in the right direction. I think last year was a pretty good year, all in all, for Woodford County.”
Of the increasingly healthy financial reports from Treasurer Sabra Garman, Coyle credited department heads for careful spending, saying, “The county is in a whole lot better shape now than it’s been since I’ve been county judge.”
Asked about the Needle Exchange and Harm Reduction Program approved by the county’s two largest governments, Coyle said he believed it would benefit both users and the public safety employees sometimes called upon to help them. (The program, administered by the Woodford County Health Department, is expected to begin early next year.)
Asked his wishes for 2018, Coyle said, “Just for things to continue on and be able to meet the needs of the county and provide what the citizens of Woodford County deserve and expect, and (to) treat our employees (fairly) … and invite more businesses here … and get a good workforce in here …”
The coming year will be the last in public office for Coyle, who began his career 33 years ago in the Woodford County Sheriff’s Department and rose through the ranks to become sheriff, then judge-executive.
“The voters and the people have been wonderful to me and my family, and it’s the best place in the world to be,” Coyle said.
He said while he was retiring from public office, he was not retiring from life, and, in addition to more time with his family, will remain active with agencies like the Food Pantry for Woodford County. Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott
Versailles Mayor Traugott’s list of achievements for the city in 2017 included work beginning on the $20 million wastewater treatment plant upgrade and expansion; an “impact fee” for new sewer hook-ups designed to fund maintenance and future growth of the plant; private investments in downtown Versailles; and progress on the $5 million new police station.
“Downtown investment has been off the charts – it’s not done, but it’s a great start. The Amsden Property, the interest (in) the (Versailles) Methodist Church properties …” Traugott said.
He cited internal improvements like a new city personnel policy and a beefed-up code of ethics as key reforms, along with the continued work of the youth council he appointed.
“I feel good about the future of our community, because we do have some bright high-schoolers,” Traugott said.
He said economic development was a strength in 2017, with results including increased tax revenues for the city and county governments.
He also said the decision to hire Woodford County Economic Development Authority Chair John Soper (unpaid for that job) as a consultant for the city had paid off for all three governments and the citizens they serve.
Traugott said disappointments in 2017 include the recent sale of the Lexington Road Plaza to U-Haul International, which he feels does not fit the present zoning of the shopping center.
“I feel that’s an industrial use in a commercial zone, and I think if we don’t preserve things like that, people in the city who have made investments today, in their businesses in that vicinity … then I think we lose a lot of credibility when we try to attract someone else,” Traugott said.
Traugott said he was also disappointed in the demolition of the old Woodford Middle School and that he believed the council could rezone the property to residential – a move that would likely displease the owners of the property.
For 2018, he said he expected the council to continue to focus on downtown improvements like a new pavilion (the latest plans for which include a site close to the Court Street area) and Big Spring Park.
The Holiday Inn Express expected to open next August will bring in extra tax revenue for the Woodford Tourism Commission, beefing up its efforts to attract new visitors, he said.
Versailles has not yet fully capitalized on the 150,000 annual visitors to Woodford Reserve, he said, and a joint effort between the county and two cities is needed to do so. Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift
At the top of Midway Mayor Grayson Vandegrift’s list of good things for his city in 2017 is the “booming business” at Midway Station and downtown Midway.
“Downtown is as full as it has been and it’s hopping and some anecdotal stories (are that) it’s been as busy as people have seen it in a long time. Obviously, getting Lakeshore (Learning Materials) up and running was just great for us – those taxes will start flowing in soon. Getting AHK going, their taxes will start flowing in – all really positive things,” Vandegrift said.
Vandegrift said the the public-private sidewalk improvement plan implemented last spring was a key, and perhaps overlooked, achievement of the city council.
“That was really successful, because it fixed some of the worst sidewalks in the most heavily walked areas in town, and it just showed that the program will work going forward,” he said.
He acknowledged a “couple of bumps in the road, so to speak” in 2018 – among them the portable speed bumps that were removed in August after complaints by motorists.
“The council (with Vandegrift’s support) did the right thing when they were trying to find a solution to the speeding problem, but it just didn’t work out the way everyone had hoped it would work out. But what it did lead to, on the positive side, was it raised more questions about how we’re going to enforce (speed limits) and how we’re going to keep our roads safe …” Vandegrift said.
Among the challenges in 2018 will be finishing reforms to the city’s blighted property laws, rezoning 65 acres at Midway Station from residential to industrial, and repaving a portion of Stephens Street near Smith Street.
At the end of 2019, the bonds that paid for Midway Station will mature, making it important that as much land as possible at the industrial park be sold before then, he said.
“We’re going to have to have even more than we have now to show for it, to keep the banks in a position where they’ll refinance it, if we haven’t developed it all, which would be pretty ambitious …” he said.